Years ago, people in the UK lived in freezing houses, huddled round an open fire for warmth. Bedrooms in Britain had a reputation round the world for frost along the window ledges – on the inside.
The move to central heating appeared to be a great leap towards a civilised way of getting through winter.
However, more and more research is suggesting that we might have gone too far.
Keeping warm is one thing. Hot, dry, airless rooms are quite another. Like so many things in life, it’s a case of everything in moderation.
Don’t forget, although it might be winter, fresh air is always a tonic, so airing the house on mild days will work better than an artificial freshener.
1. Having very different room temperatures
Going from a hot to a cold environment can increase your blood pressure and that could affect the blood supply to the heart.
In some people it could trigger angina, heart attacks or changes to heart rhythm. Dr Maurice Pye, consultant cardiologist at York Hospital has said there needs to be a “reasonable temperature”, above 18C, in all rooms.
2. A drying atmosphere
Central heating produces a dry atmosphere, which over months and months is dehydrating to the entire body.
The result might particularly be felt in the sinuses and nasal passages, causing sinusitis.
“If the mucus (in the nose) gets too dry, it turns into a scab or turns to thick glue. It causes discomfort in the sinuses, pain in the cheeks and can lead to bleeding,” George Murty, consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at University Hospitals Leicester, told the Daily Mail.
3. Watering eyes
The natural film in front of the eyes is made of three layers: mucus, water and oil.
The oil floats to the surface to stop the water from evaporating, but if the atmosphere dries out too much, the water will evaporate. Chris Worsman, a senior optometrist, has suggested humidifying rooms with a bowl of water or houseplants.
4. Harmimg your hands
Warming your hands on a radiator could cause blood vessels to go into temporary spasm, blocking the blood supply and causing fingers to first turn white, then blue and red.
For the 20% of us who suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome, this is a major problem. So, “don’t warm your chilly hands on a radiator”, advises Dr Maurice Pye.
5. Weight gain
Dutch researchers have found that central heating might cause weight gain, because the cold activates the ‘brown fat’ in our bodies, which helps in burning off calories. Having the heating too high stops this mechanism.
They suggest the temperature in our homes should be no more than 15-17C for at least a few hours every day.